“Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert? What’s your Enneagram and/or Myers Briggs?” Rachel Welcher tweeted on June 24, 2020, with the hashtag #ChristianSinglesMixer. She received dozens of replies. This question was one of many in a series that Rachel and her husband, Evan, threw out on their second Twitter mixer.
“Our notifications were out of control,” Rachel said of their first digital event. “We did it for one night, but it lasted a week.”
In a year when social media has increasingly become a place of political grandstanding and polemical echo chambers, Evan and Rachel Welcher bring levity, light, and happiness to the space by trying to set up their Christian followers. They’re passionate about this specific use of social media because they too started their relationship online.
“We met each other on Twitter, through reading each other’s writing—notably about grief,” Evan said.
As the world increasingly gravitates online, pushed there in part by a pandemic that makes it hard to meet others in person, finding a prospective partner on an app or a social media site is increasingly common among evangelicals.
Traditional online dating is often geographically constrained, but social media offers Christians the chance to meet long distance when their options are limited in a small town—like Evan and Rachel did—or when compatible companions are hard to find in a big city. Like dating apps, social media’s algorithms can help you find likeminded community. But whereas dating apps make it easy for a person to paint a false image, social media can give a somewhat more realistic picture. On Twitter, for example, it’s easier to spot how a potential partner interacts with others, navigates political differences, and talks about controversial theological ideas.
In 2019, Pew found that about a third of US adults used online dating. Christian-friendly dating apps, from eHarmony to Christian Mingle to a startup like Upward, have tried to entice evangelicals. But historically, many of them have not seen online dating as an option. The Barna Group found that 75 percent of evangelicals surveyed in 2016 said they would never use online dating, and only 10 percent had used it before. (Still, in 2011—which is centuries ago in internet years—CT showcased the ongoing debate on whether Christians should date online.)
This past year, online dating spiked as singles sought to connect with potential partners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of current circumstances, many Christian singles are not necessarily meeting at church, Rachel Welcher said. (Other factors, as Mark Regnerus points out, include uneven women-to-men ratios in congregations.)
Now poetry editor at Fathom Magazine and author of Talking Back to Purity Culture, Rachel Welcher, 34, started publishing her writing in order to process a painful divorce from her husband of five years. Evan, a pastor and also a writer, took notice. After his late wife died of lymphoma and leukemia, he processed much of his sorrow through poetry.
“I had read some of the things [Evan] had written about losing [his wife], and he had read some of mine about walking through divorce as a Christian,” added Rachel. “We were observing each other through our writing. I was like, this guy gets it. He understands what it means to live with a broken heart.”
Six months after meeting online, Evan flew from Iowa to California to visit her. “Once I met him, I was ready to marry him,” she said. After countless calls and letters and messages—but only about four weeks physically together—Evan proposed. The couple married on October 21, 2017.
The Welchers are not the only Christians on the amateur, digital “matchmaking ministry” scene.
“I love love,” said Heather Thompson Day, a professor of communication at Colorado Christian University (CCU) and an active Twitter user with 40,000 Twitter followers. She tweets primarily about student life at CCU and also her own marriage. Until recently, Thompson Day was a self-proclaimed Twitter matchmaker whose social media feed was sprinkled with mini dating profile posts. She had garnered enough trust among her followers that dozens were tweeting at her with a short bio and photo for her to blast out to the Twittersphere.
For Thompson Day, Twitter matchmaking was simply an online translation of her real life. She’s been matchmaking for her friends since seventh grade—even going up to strangers at church to ask if she could connect them with her friends. Two of her paired couples married, and she knows two or three other couples who have been together for a while. As a professor, she doesn’t matchmake her students, but she does connect them as new friends, for example, by giving two of them cash to get lunch together.
“We’d all be better off if we said, ‘Who do I know?’ or went through our contacts to help our single friends find each other,” said Thompson Day, who stopped matching her followers in December. From her perspective, matchmaking among Christian singles is filling a hole in the dating world. “If there wasn’t a need, it wouldn’t be so well-received.”
Now, in place of Twitter matchmaking, she points her followers to her friend’s online speed dating website.
Kelly Stamps, a Christian blogger, has been matchmaking people online since 2010. While it started on her blog as a lighthearted experiment, in recent years, she’s turned to Instagram, posting thousands of curated profiles on @kellyskornersingles. She met her husband of 20 years on a blind date and wants to help singles interested in marriage meet each other. So far, 29 couples have married through her efforts.
“Dating apps can be kind of scary and crazy because you don’t know who’s on there. This feels a little safer, maybe, because it’s coming through a Christian mom blogger,” Stamps said. A decade ago, online dating was new and somewhat stigmatized, she said, but 2020 solidified the growing acceptance of the trend.
“This year, you have no ways to meet someone. Why not take a chance? You just never know unless you try,” she said. “God can bring you someone anywhere. He is a creative God, if he wants to use an Instagram account to bring you someone, he can.”
Beyond Awkward Side Hugs author Bronwyn Lea argues that there is a case to make for online matchmaking being “fundamentally Christian” by extending hospitality and building community. And doing so creatively online during a pandemic year “speaks to our longing for community and relationships,” she said.
“The question ‘I know someone you might really get along with, would you like to be introduced?’ could be a welcome and respectful upgrade from the painful ‘So, are you seeing anyone?’ probe,” Lea wrote recently for CT. “And as we practice the generosity and hospitality of introducing people to God (through evangelism) and to one another (in community), we do more than help couples explore marriage—we build the church.”
Matthew Rumsey and Allison Reed, both 30, unexpectedly benefited from the Welchers’ online matchmaking endeavor. They connected through the singles mixer this summer. “It’s a pandemic; I have nothing else to do,” said Reed of her thought process at the time. “I’ll throw my hat in the ring in this weird thing of a Christian singles mixer.”
Tweets turned to private messages and then to texting and eventually became weekly four-hour video chats. In February, the two had started visiting each other in person more regularly.
Reed, who works in college ministry in Indianapolis, says that there are lots of singles at her church, but it’s rare for them to ask each other out. So many have turned to online dating, only to face the challenge of discovering whether a match holds their same faith or values.
It’s hard to find someone on the “same spiritual wavelength,” said Rumsey, a mortgage loans servicer who lives in Oklahoma City. But “there’s a certain level of commonality” to dating someone through Christian Twitter, he said.
If social media matchmaking has unique strengths, it also has unique weaknesses. The so-called “social media generation” is, perhaps counterintuitively, one of the loneliest. And like the 2020 film The Social Dilemma aimed to prove, its algorithms can steer people toward echo chambers. While many social media users find community and commonality online, it’s not the ideal medium to scope out a lifelong partnership, at least compared to an in-person meet-cute. And social media still makes it possible to present a curated or “false” self for the internet.
Setting friends up will work best if it’s between people the matchmaker truly knows, said Thompson Day. But digital matchmaking is still valuable, regardless of the medium.
“Take the risk,” is Thompson Day’s advice to singles. “We’re afraid to open ourselves up and afraid of rejection. Fear often prevents us from connection. I think it’s a mistake because connection is why we are here.”
For writers like the Welchers, online communication worked well. “If that’s how you excel at communication, that’s a great way to know each other,” Evan said.
In both 2019 and 2020, their singles mixer—where users would follow along with a hashtag and answer questions over the span of a couple of hours—was a hit. “We believe that singleness has value, but we know a lot of singles who want to be married,” Rachel said. “We want to love singles, whatever that looks like.”
Kara Bettis is an associate features editor with Christianity Today.
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